The Great Neapolitan Tenor Francesco Albanese
Francesco Albanese was born in Torre del Greco, Naples, and was a popular lyric tenor, known not only for his work in opera, but as one of the greatest singers of Neapolitan song. His life and career were almost entirely in Italy, although he did sing in London, Portugal and South America. As a result, his work was largely within the Italian repertoire, but that of course is a very large part of opera! He did not, to the best of my knowledge, ever sing in the United States. We have an unfortunate tendency in the US to think that Italian singers who never sang here were unsuccessful or unimpressive. That is a silly kind of chauvinism, of course; nothing could be further from the truth. He in fact had a very good career, and is greatly respected today.
His first studies were in Rome, with Francesco Salfi, and it was there that he made his debut, at the Teatro dell'Opera, in Gluck's Alceste His early repertoire was to become his characteristic repertoire, which is leggiero, or light lyric roles, such as Almaviva, Fenton, Rinuccio, Ottavio, Ramiro, Ernesto (Don Pasquale), Armida, Alfredo and Nemorino.
He recorded both Ifigenia in Tauride, (1957) and La Traviata (early 50's ) opposite Maria Callas.
It was not only in opera that Albanese had a good career. For lovers of Neapolitan music, Albanese is commonly considered one of the greatest of all singers of Neapolitan songs, which have a remarkable history all their own. As I always hasten to point out, whenever I speak of Neapolitan songs, there is a great misconception about what they are. It seems, for example, that nearly every operatic tenor and baritone on earth feels obliged to sing these songs, whether or not they know anything about Naples, its language, literature, or musical history. As a result of this, many of the songs are done poorly. In fact, the Neapolitan song has a style all its own, because these songs have a long history and in their earliest iterations, they were art songs, much more restrained and dignified in tone than they now often appear in the hands of many singers. Further, they were, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a principle means of instructing a large and unlettered populace in Neapolitan cultural and literary history--they served as a kind of instruction in napolitanità ; which is to say in what it meant to be Neapolitan. Therefore, a great familiarity with Naples, its music, its political history, its language and its literature is required to do them well. Several names come immediately to mind, including Fernando de Lucia—still the all-time favorite tenor of many Neapolitans—modern singers Roberto Murolo and Aurelio Fierro, and of course Francesco Albanese.
I think it's possible to get a good idea of just what a fine singer Albanese was by listening to him sing one of the most popular of all Neapolitan songs, Dicitencello Vuje. When I posted this on Youtube, I included the lyrics, and translated them from Neapolitan into English. It makes it possible to follow the song carefully.
Isn't that just absolutely wonderful! That is what a Neapolitan song is supposed to sound like. The first thing you will notice is that it is completely devoid of shouting, moaning, groaning, glycerin tears or schlock. It is in fact as well constructed, singable and dignified as many a Schubert Lied, making allowance for the theme of romance expressed in a Latin way and in a Latin language. Of course, these tonal differences will be expressed in ways particular to both cultures, but that says nothing about the quality of the artistry, just the intrinsic nature of the different cultures, languages, and peoples. You can hear the same differences in political or scientific discussions or speeches. On the same Youtube page where this song appears, you can find, in the right hand sidebar, the same song "sung" by the Three Tenors. I don't recommend it:-)
As for opera, here is "Parigi, o Cara....," from La Traviata, with Maria Callas:
Notice the restraint and the elegance of his singing. This is classy singing, there is no doubt about it, and very much against stereotype. I would contend that this is exactly the quality I find in the Neapolitan songs he sings, and one of the major reasons he sings them so authentically and beautifully. A first class tenor, and a credit to Italian music!